Gabriel Kahane’s fifth LP, Magnificent Bird (Nonesuch Records), brings to life a trunk of songs written in self-imposed isolation—a full year off the internet—with the help of a dozen-and-a-half colleagues, including Andrew Bird, Chris Thile, Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, and Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw.
In October 2020—the final month of his digital hiatus, and a resolutely chaotic period in the United States—he set out to write a song every day. “I wanted to create an aural brain scan at the end of this experiment,” he explains, “and to give myself permission to write about small things, rather than trying to distill the enormity of the moment into grand statements.”
The resulting album, hailed by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a gorgeous, intimate collection of ten musical snapshots,” finds the songwriter shuttling between the quotidian mundane and a series of overlapping national and global crises: a portrait of life in the roiling chaos of the 21st century.
As attested to by the expansive personnel on Magnificent Bird, Kahane’s musical communities are broad: past collaborators include artists ranging from Phoebe Bridgers, Paul Simon, Sylvan Esso, and Sufjan Stevens, to Pekka Kuusisto, Anthony McGill, and Attacca Quartet.
A sought-after composer of concert works, Gabriel will appear in the 2022/2023 season with the St. Louis Symphony, the Cincinnati Symphony, the Virginia Symphony, and the San Francisco Symphony, which will present emergency shelter intake form, Kahane’s 2018 oratorio exploring inequality through the lens of housing issues. He returns this fall to the Oregon Symphony, where he has served as Creative Chair since 2018, as soloist in his new song cycle The Right to Be Forgotten, a further exploration—begun with Magnificent Bird—of the increasingly fraught relationship between technology and humanity.
Kahane’s work as a theater artist has been seen at the Public Theater, which commissioned and produced his 2012 musical, February House, written with the playwright Seth Bockley, as well as at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which co-commissioned and produced Book of Travelers, first staged by director Daniel Fish in 2017, and released the following year as a critically-acclaimed album on Nonesuch Records. Gabriel’s BAM debut came in 2014, with The Ambassador, directed by Tony and Olivier Award-winner John Tiffany.
Education is an area of great interest for Kahane, who served in the spring of 2021 as a visiting lecturer at Princeton University through the Lewis Center’s Atelier program; he appears frequently throughout the United States offering master classes and workshops. Gabriel’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker online and in The New York Times; his wide-ranging newsletter “Words and Music,” can be accessed at gabrielkahane.substack.com.
The recipient of a 2021 Charles Ives Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, Kahane is a current Mellon Creative Fellow at the University of Washington. After almost two decades in New York, he relocated in March of 2020 to Portland, Oregon, where he lives with his family.